Tuesday, July 28, 2009


One thousand miles from my home in San Francisco, Kamloops beckoned, hot and dry, soon to be ground zero for 70 old-motorcycle enthusiasts, intent on proving their machines over a week of riding through the remote mountain roads of British Columbia. The Velocette Owners Club of North America holds a week-long rally every July, somewhere in the West (that is, west of the Rockies), and usually covers a thousand miles over 5 days of riding. The club has three requirements for the location of the Rally; interesting scenery, an HQ which combines facilities for camping and hotels, and good roads... which translated means roads appropriate for Velocette - lots of twisty stuff for our light and good-handling mounts.

The South Thompson Inn served us well previously, in 2003, but rally organizer Cory Padula managed to create an entirely different route for this year, even better than last time. The temperature in Kamloops was on par with '03 though, hovering between 90 and 100 degrees during the day... certainly hot enough to cause a bit of strain on our quintessentially English vehicles. And thus it was to prove throughout the week, as a legacy of leaks, breakdowns, and flat tires was laid daily on the ramp of our support vehicle.

Or should I say vehicles. We've typically made do with one truck hauling a trailer to chase our old bikes, with capacity for at least 5 troubled machines. On day 1 my new belt-primary-drive conversion failed utterly within 10 miles of the start, the clutch basket growing so hot within this short distance that the industrial-grade polyurethane drive belt literally melted over the steel wheel, making an ungodly stench identical to, well, burned clutch.

The simplest fix for the moment, as our route was a 240 mile 'loop' that day (returning to the Inn), was to return to camp, grab my Sprinter, throw the Clubman inside, give one of my English guests my 1966 Norton Atlas to ride, and follow along in the van, taking photos, and picking up strays.
It was a good thing too, as the day proved a wrecking ball for rider and motorcycle alike. Within another 10 miles, our esteemed President's Velo Venom was hors de combat, with zero compression... a holed piston so soon? Into the Sprinter it went... with the official chase truck pulling up shortly with a lovely silver/blue Thruxton on the trailer... that made 3 bikes down within 20 miles. Not a good omen!

The canyons and mountains lining the Thompson river are brown and very dry, with the heat a blast furnace whenever the canyons narrow. But, as one pulls away from the river and gains altitude, greenery resumes with the evergreen trees, and the temperature drops to a very tolerable mid-80's. As we followed a small side track into a mountain pass, flowers and grass flanked the unlined road, and a freshet followed our progress. At one sharp hairpin bend which crossed the stream, we (for I had gained the Venom's rider Kiwi Dave, with the bike) discovered an actual sidecar lying forlorn and distinctly unattached in the dirt, near a very pretty scene by the flowing water, under a canopy of healthy (more on this later) green Fir trees. An orange ribbon, our signal for a vehicle in distress, was tied around the mounting struts of the solitary chair, and it was clear we were meant to fetch the thing.

Clearly, Something had happened; a little sleuthing revealed a deep Gouge in the tarmac, a banged up sidecar body, and a rag with blood spots... but, the motorcycle which had formerly been hauling the 'chair' was off and away, so the rider must have been basically healthy, if a little scuffed. The sidecar itself was an Indian copy of a Steib, reduced to perhaps 80% of the original size....but when hauling it onto the bed of the Official Chase Pickup, it took 3 robust fellows to drag the thing up a ramp - remarkably heavy! It was only later in the day, when an extremely dense blue brick was produced from the sidecar body, that the penny dropped; as the outfit had no passenger, the sidecar was filled with 200lbs of lead bricks as ballast! And we, the rescue-salvagers hadn't known/discovered/deduced that the weights were still laying in the thing when we carried it around... good for a laugh later, anyway.

Another 5 miles down the road found another rider, a very brave person who had only earned her motorcycle license the month prior, sitting quietly on a log, her newer Moto Guzzi resting upright deep in the weeds outside a curve... clearly yet another getoff. That made two crashes and 3 duff bikes within 50 miles; we still hadn't had lunch yet! The Terminator Rally had already gained a name... As the Guzzi was only a little bent, some judicious pressure made it rideable, but the rider was perhaps a little less easily fixed, and demurred a further ride (it transpired her collarbone was broken).

Kiwi Dave leapt at the chance to be on two wheels again, so my passenger changed sex, and away we went, shortly to discover a mammoth copper mine which had Altered the landscape dramatically, excavating an entire mountain, creating a 2000' high ridge of tailings, and a 20km long tailing 'pond', glowing fluorescent blue-green under the sun...nothing at all could live in a bath of copper sulfate, and the tourist signs assured the curious that the toxic liquid was 'totally contained and isolated from the groundwater'. As depressing as this devastated landscape might have seemed, copper works really well to conduct our electricity, so this place was merely the unseen underside of our various Conveniences...

We dropped down again to another section of the Thompson river, had an incredibly slow lunch break at an overwhelmed cafe, and followed another tributary upstream back towards Kamloops. At the Quilchena hotel, a Velo with an orange ribbon was sitting alone beside the road; it was the sidecar tug itself, a Venom Endurance. The rider, Jim Abbott, confirmed our suspicion about his crash, as he told of the sudden parting of bike and sidecar when a strut broke - he continued moving forward, while the outfit dug in and slew violently sideways. Sidecar jiu-jitsu, ouch. The bike appeared ok, the rider less so, and I prepared to ride it back the remaining 60 miles to camp, and handed Jim the truck keys.

After following motorcycles all day in the truck, I had a real 'wheee' of an hour on that Endurance. I was instantly reminded of just how much fun a good Velocette can be; light, nimble, with adequate power, and an intuitive resonance with the rider's every movement. Things improved further when we turned onto Campbell Lake Road; well-graded dirt for 20 miles, and the Endurance proved its intended purpose as a Dualsport machine, albeit 60's style.

I have a penchant for good untarred roads, as they provide a totally different riding experience. As the surface is loose, traction is questionable, and steering becomes a new art, in which a relaxed posture (and handlebar grip) is essential. Sliding motorcycle is viscerally pleasurable and best accomplished with the throttle and the hips...there would be plenty of opportunities to try my technique during the following days...

Monday night, very many men were seen huddling near their ailing motors, attending to clutches or pistons or magnetos or flat tires, with flashlights providing dim and insecure illumination to the scenes. It looked for all the world like an encampment the night before a battle...


Anonymous said...

How did the Velo Indian do??? By the way...any ventilation in your primary for the belt?? I always had vents made on HD or even my Commando and never any problem with belts...play is critic: I adjust the tension to be able to twist the belt almost 90 degrees...but I guess each have its own personality!

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul;

Love your writing!

I don’t remember who sent me the link to your blog, but I do look forward to it .

My current bikes are an 05 Triumph Bonneville T100, and an 04 HD RoadKing Custom.

I ride frequently with a loose association locally called the Winston Salem Classics. Several of the guys have more than one true classic bike and they ride them. We have a show every spring and several rides during the year.

Should your travels ever take you to this part of the country, I can provide you with a place to stay for a couple days and some garage space.

Please keep writing, !!

Best regards, Doug

Anonymous said...

Graet adventure Paul...BC and the Okanogan is a lot of fun in the summer. Next year's INOA rally will be up in Lumby again and it's on my calendar.

Speaking of Rallies, I just got back from the INOA rally in the Rockies (Mancos, CO) It was really well attended and a fantastic venue. Far fewer mechanical ill's were encountered than your Velo Rally. What does that tell you?,

C-ya, Jerr